The Kansas City Urban Youth Academy is hitting the sweet spot with Royals fans and players. And that’s generating the excitement — plus millions of dollars — required to make this project come true.
Mayor Sly James and Royals general manager Dayton Moore are the faces behind building new baseball fields and an indoor training facility in Parade Park in the city’s urban core.
James is leading the way in securing public funds. The City Council on Thursday committed $2 million in local funds to the plan, while the state will chip in a similar amount.
Moore has been extremely involved in getting the academy up and rolling. The World Series champion Royals will run and pay to operate it. He brought in private donors including well-funded groups linked to Major League Baseball. And Royals players signed to recent contracts by Moore have stepped forward, such as Alex Gordon, Chris Young and Salvador Perez, who is making a reported $1 million donation.
Supporters this week unveiled an intriguing fundraising plan for the academy called “Relay the Way.”
On April 3, about 2,500 people would have the opportunity to take part in a game of catch stretching almost 10 miles from Union Station to Kauffman Stadium. The suggested donation is $30 a person. The single ball that organizers hope will make it all the way through the event is supposed to end up in the ceremonial first pitch before the nationally televised home opener against the New York Mets.
By next year, when at least the first phase of the Urban Youth Academy is expected to be done, it should become a true benefit for plenty of young people, including many who haven’t had the opportunity to play on well-manicured fields like so many in the suburbs take for granted.
Academy participants will include some who are learning to play the game of baseball and others who want to get better at it. That could help the players stay interested in the sport through their high school and even college years. Maybe the academy will even produce an eventual Major League Baseball player, though the odds are greatly stacked against that possibility.
The benefits of the Urban Youth Academy also should extend far beyond the baseball diamond. Part of the goal is to provide job training to hundreds of young people each year as well as leadership skills taught by coaches and others involved in the project.
Here’s a gratifying development: The surge of interest in the academy from the Royals, city officials and the public could generate enough money to fund and complete the entire project by 2017, rather than in phases as once expected.
That would be a home run for the youths of Kansas City.